Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging raising awareness of elder abuse

Jun. 15—SUNBURY — The Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging is raising awareness about elder abuse and neglect in communities.

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations (UN) launched the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2006, in an effort to unite communities around the world in raising awareness about elder abuse.

“When we come together, we can prevent elder abuse from happening,” said Area Agency on Aging administrator Karen Leonovich. “We can put support services in place, and direct community resources toward addressing elder abuse. Our country must reaffirm our commitment to justice and create a sturdy structure of support that will benefit us all as we get older.”

Every year, an estimated one in 10 older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Experts believe that elder abuse is significantly under-reported, in part because so many communities lack the social supports that would make it easier for those who experience abuse to report it. Research suggests that as few as one in 14 cases of elder abuse come to the attention of authorities.

In 2021, the Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging received and investigated approximately 650 reports of suspected abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.The agency has additional concerns about elder abuse that hasn’t been reported to the agency, said Leonovich.

In addition to being a clear violation of the American commitment to justice for all, elder abuse is an issue with many consequences for society. Its effects on communities range from public health to economic issues, she said.

“The good news is that we can prevent and address the issue of elder abuse,” said Leonovich. “There are many ways to strengthen our social supports through policies, services and programs that keep us integrated in our communities as we age.”

She said some potential solutions include designing and equipping community centers to function as intergenerational spaces; considering the role of transportation in reducing social isolation and adjusting those systems; improving coordination between teams, agencies and programs that specifically work with older people; and developing programs to educate families and professionals who work with older adults to understand the importance of preventing isolation and abuse as well as ways to address abuse or neglect.

“By doing all that we can to strengthen the social support structure, we can reduce social isolation, protect communities and families against elder abuse, and build a nation that lives up to our promise of justice for all,” Leonovich said.